Some people go to work to collect a paycheck; others want to make a difference. Tara Milburn and the team at Ethical Swag, Inc. are the latter. Founded on March 1, 2018, with the intention of only providing socially compliant, safe, high-quality and environmentally conscientious branded merchandise, Ethical Swag is exceptionally focused on clients who demand to know the background of the products that bear their brand.

“When an organization puts their logo on a product, it says something about who they are and what they believe in. It is a physical connection to their brand and their customers,” Tara explains. “Understanding the story behind those products helps to protect our clients with their most valuable asset—their brand! It can take years to build and minutes to destroy unless we take the necessary precautions.”

As the latest addition to the QCA Distributor Advocacy Council (DAC), Ethical Swag is solidifying its commitment to corporate responsibility by almost exclusively using QCA Accredited Suppliers. “More than 90% of the suppliers we use are QCA Accredited. It is our baseline for doing business,” Tara says. “The only exception is when select products that our customers are looking for cannot be sourced from Accredited Suppliers. In those cases, we thoroughly review suppliers ourselves. ”

With the entire business built on ensuring products are sourced responsibly, Tara says it is important to align themselves with an organization such as QCA that has shared objectives so they can become part of the collective voice for product safety, social compliance and environmental stewardship.

“Our clients rely on us to know the story behind the products we carry, and they regularly ask about the supply chain, social compliance and sustainability,” she says. “They ask us what we mean by ‘ethical’ in our company name to ensure it aligns with their values and expectations. These customers come to us because they are specifically looking for brand safety and responsible sourcing.”

As more and more buyers look beyond codes of conduct and demand verification throughout the entire supply chain to prove the promotional products they purchase will enhance—and not harm—their brands, it makes sense to laser-focus on this growing market of educated customers. For Ethical Swag, this strategy is working.

“Our client list grows every day, predominantly through referrals and word-of-mouth, because of the increased importance of brand safety and the need to be transparent when sourcing,” Tara says. “This is a testament to the growing demand of corporate responsibility in the promotional products industry.”

Since brand safety matters to the end buyers, Tara says it must matter to the manufacturers, suppliers and distributors within the supply chain—and she encourages others to get involved. “It is important that we are all accountable. Through DAC participation, we can now have seat at the table to ensure the thoroughness of the auditing,” she says. “We also want to find ways to increase the number of QCA Accredited Suppliers so it isn’t just ‘the big guys.’ It is important that small, responsible suppliers have the ability to promote their commitment to brand safety within our industry.”

While cost has been a barrier not only for suppliers who want to go through the Accreditation Program but also for distributors who want to support them through the DAC, the new participation model that debuted in January gives companies of all sizes the opportunity to get involved. In fact, this new model is what sealed the deal for Ethical Swag to become part of the group.

“We actually began discussions before our company launch because our values align very closely with the work of QCA,” Tara says. “We believe strongly in the work of the QCA and use the organization as a key partner in how we qualify which suppliers we use. Being a Distributor Advocate means we are supporting an organization that is focused on the same things we are in a vast and growing industry. Collectively, we can raise awareness and support suppliers and distributors that are focused on ensuring our industry is part of the solution (and not the problem) when it comes to social and environmental reform.”


About the author: Since 1998, Lisa Horn, CAS, (a.k.a. The Publicity Gal) has been reporting on the issues that matter most to the promotional products industry. As QCA’s editorial director, she writes about brand safety and responsible sourcing. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter @thepublicitygal.